c/o Ethan Geiger

c/o Ethan Geiger

Welcome to Argus Overseas, a column brought to you by the Features Section. In this column, we chat with students who have spent time abroad to highlight student experiences with studying outside the University. 

This week, The Argus spoke to Ethan Geiger ’24, who spent the fall semester in England at the University of Oxford. After committing to Middlebury College’s Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies Oxford Humanities Program (CMRS), Geiger chose to concentrate in political science. The program selects 30 students from American universities to study at the University of Oxford. When he said down to chat with us, Geiger reflected on his academic journey abroad and his fulfilling experiences in the English countryside. 

Applying to Oxford 

Unlike most study abroad programs, the CMRS Program had a more complex application process, most similar to the Common Application. 

“It was pretty intense,” Geiger said. “The program required a couple of letters of recommendation and a writing sample from one of our academic works. It also wanted us to write about 500 words of why we wanted to be in that program specifically.”

Students must complete an application through the ViaTRM portal along with a separate application for the CMRS program. In addition, prospective students are required to have a minimum GPA of 3.5, making enrollment in the program quite competitive. 

c/o Ethan Geiger

c/o Ethan Geiger

Eager for England 

Over the summer, Geiger thoroughly prepared for his time abroad to ensure that he could make the most of his experience. 

“I worked, and I tried not to spend money because I wanted to save up,” Geiger said. “Oxford is pretty close to London, so I watched some videos and did some research about what it’s like to live in London. I also got a rail pass. Oh, and I had to update my passport because it had expired.” 

Geiger knew that academics would take up much of his time in Oxford, with class structures at the University of Oxford taking on a different form than classes he had taken during his time at Wesleyan. 

“I was a little nervous,” Geiger said. “I heard that the academics were a lot more rigorous than most study abroad programs.”

Despite the lack of a language barrier, Geiger expected British culture to be different from what he was used to in the United States. 

“I think a lot of people assume that the U.S. and the U.K. are very similar, and in a lot of ways they are, but in a lot of ways they aren’t,” Geiger said. “I just didn’t really know where it would be different and where it would be similar.”

After Arrival 

After his arrival last August, Geiger felt pleasantly surprised by his easy time acclimating to life in England. 

“I felt like adjusting to the culture was a lot easier than I expected,” Geiger said. “I think that in a lot of ways the U.K. is like the America of Europe. I didn’t have a ton of issues with that. The fact that I spoke the language [made it easy], and no one seemed to mind that I was American or judged me for being American.”

Geiger had no trouble making friends, especially through attending the Freshers’ Fair, a space for connecting new students to one another, and by socializing with his hall-mates as soon as he got to Oxford.

“I was more nervous going in than I needed to be about being the only Wesleyan student,” Geiger said. “I assumed all the Middlebury people would know each other, but most of them were not very familiar with each other. We were all kind of getting to know each other at the same time.”

Because everyone in the program lived in the same accomodations, it was easy for Geiger to interact with other students who were studying abroad. 

“I got to know them really well,” Geiger said. “I made some pretty close friends, and I had a good group going not long after I landed there.”

Thanks to the wonders of our digitalized world, Geiger also looked forward to finally meeting someone with whom he had connected on a dating app during the summer. 

“We actually met a couple of months before I went abroad,” Geiger said. “We started talking for a couple of months throughout the summer, and then we went on our first date a couple of days after I got to the U.K. and things just went from there. He lives in East London, and we got to do a lot of stuff in London as well.”

Academic Adventures

As a College of Social Studies (CSS) major, Geiger returned to the roots of the CSS department at the CMRS Oxford Humanities Program, the same institution where the tutorial system was founded. While Middlebury runs the program itself, its academic expectations live up to Oxford’s notoriously difficult curriculum. 

“I would say [the program was] about as rigorous as Wesleyan,” Geiger said. “It was [based on] a tutorial system, which is really similar to the College of Social Studies, which also does tutorials. It was very writing-heavy and very reading-heavy, but I didn’t have any tests. It was very Socratic, so it felt like what I was used to in the Wesleyan classroom.”

The intensity of the program attracted a diverse crowd of academically-motivated individuals, making for an intellectually stimulating environment. 

“Middlebury is a little bit more preppy [than Wesleyan],” Geiger said. “[There] are a lot of English majors—a lot of people really [who are] into Shakespeare. On the other side, some people that were really into economics and politics, and a lot of people who wanted to go into finance.”

Given that Oxford is a world renowned institution, Geiger highlighted that the program attracted a person looking for a certain outcome from the program.

“Oxford carries a certain name with it,” Geiger said. “So a lot of people were there [to get] Oxford stamped on their resume.”

Daily Life 

Despite the rigor of the program, Geiger enjoyed the tranquility of Oxford’s comforting atmosphere and scenic architecture. 

“After waking up, I would go across the street to the French café,” Geiger said. “I would have a panini and do some reading. Then I would [usually] go to the Radcliffe Camera, which is the famous Oxford Library. I would do some reading there, and maybe work on my paper.”

After finishing work, Geiger spent the evenings in the cozy quarters of his dorm, which was a renovated shoe factory from the 1800s. 

“I would make dinner with my friends in the hall and do a little bit more work,” Geiger said. “I would hang out with some of my Middlebury friends. We watched a lot of Harry Potter together. I tried to balance school and social life [as much as possible].”

Time for Travel 

Despite his demanding schedule, Geiger still made time to explore Europe throughout the semester. 

“I went to Copenhagen [and] got to visit my friends,” Geiger said. “Most of my friends from Welseyan were in the Copenhagen program (through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad). It was a fun trip.”

Being the only student from Wesleyan, Geiger appreciated that the Oxford program forced him to step out of his comfort zone and make new friends.

“As much as I loved Copenhagen, I think I realized that it was really refreshing to be around an entirely new set of people,” Geiger said. 

Geiger missed Wesleyan and his friends, feeling homesick at times. However, these feelings made his return to Wesleyan in the spring that much more exciting. 

“I think the major thing is I just missed my friends,” Geiger said. “I missed the coziness, the comfort and the familiarity of Wesleyan. In Oxford, [I was] forced to be a lot more independent because I wasn’t living on the campus and there weren’t as many support structures.”

Final Reflections and Advice 

Both challenging and rewarding, Geiger’s time at Oxford left him with a refreshing outlook on the world.

“I think that Americans have a very specific way of thinking about the world, and it’s not something that you can necessarily explain until you meet people who have different perspectives,” Geiger said. “On the flip side, British people have a very specific way of thinking about things. It’s impossible to not take on some of those inherent biases that come from being from one place.” 

Despite the intimidating nature of the program, Geiger believes that it should not stop anyone from applying. 

“Don’t let the fact that you won’t know anyone put you off,” Geiger said. “Abroad is about exploring new things and meeting new people.”

Although he encourages other students to apply, Geiger stresses that the demands of the program may not be for everyone. 

“I certainly had to put in a lot of effort,” Geiger said. “So if you’re someone who wants to keep themselves challenged but still be somewhere new, it’s for you.”


Eugenia Shakhnovskaya can be reached at eshakhnovska@wesleyan.edu.

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